The guest, in Indian culture, is highly regarded and to the westerner receiving this level of attention and pampering could often prove to be uncomfortable. Today, more than twenty staff members, including doctors, yoga teachers, and chefs saw me off as Mr. Pramod, the driver who I got the privilege of driving with, picked me up from Kalari Kovilakom. The goodbye was emotionally overwhelming for someone who has a hard time with goodbyes and endings.
Pramod was a quiet man. We exchanged a few words here and there during the ten hours that we shared together in an air conditioned vehicle. I asked a few questions, and his short responses were simply no more than a “yes sir” or a “no sir.” I am used to silence, but as an extrovert, I wanted more than that on this journey. I wanted to know all about Pramod. Formalities are often very difficult for me to deal with, so I soon asked for a first name basis. He didn’t address me as Armen. That’s ok! Soon enough, I gave up on trying to strike a conversation and chose to respect the silence. I chose to not speak until spoken too. He was concentrating on the chaotic roads anyway as we ascended over 8500 feet through windy roads with panoramic views of the lush green jungle to Prakriti Shakti– a naturopathic center in the hills of Panchalimedu, Kerala. I respected his consideration for our safety. So, I sat in silence.
There seems to be some sort of silent driver communication amidst the continuous honking—not rage filled honks though. The honks seem to be a necessary evil to what is a silent, efficient maneuvering between driving on the opposite side of the road to avoiding motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians alike, everyone swiftly moving forward—eventually arriving—safe and sound.
At 8:30am, thirty minutes before Pramod picked me up, I had the most delicious mango I have ever tasted in my life. I was offered more, but I chose to follow the Ayurvedic way and graciously said “no, thank you” and proceeded to check out. As I entered Pramod’s car this morning, after the ceremonial goodbye, it was as if we hadn’t seen each other in forever. The day before, we had already spent many hours in awkward silence, as well. To me awkward. To him, just the way it was. A few generous smiles and uniting our palms together with a “namaskaram” I was happy to see him again, but sad to leave the peaceful center. I asked him kindly to stop at the nearest coffee shop that would have an actual espresso machine. He said we could do that in about an hours time. More like two hours. We laughed at my level of hunger and coffee desperation, him assuring me that generous portions are not the Ayurvedic way. I knew that. I also knew that I went from devouring delicious curries, rice and naan during the past week to an immediate change of diet.
My belly grumbling, I reached for a granola bar I had packed in case of emergencies and a mini banana my hosts had packed for the road trip. Our six hour journey would be filled with more silence, and honks. It was around 11am when I pointed my left index finger toward Cafe Coffee Day, which I knew with certainty had what I needed and here we had arrived to my caffeine oasis. He was about to miss my only chance at an americano, but this Americano was alert enough to notice what he needed, wanted, and desired–a decent cup of coffee. The shop in the middle of no where had an Italian espresso machine and the electricity was intermittent. It would’ve been really funny, if the generators just didn’t work. Pramod and I both sat down to enjoy our respective coffees—he wanted a cappuccino. I think he ordered that for the photo opp. He took a selfie there, a Starbucks equivalent in India, I’d say, and a few blurry takes of his foam art, which was meant to be a heart that the barista failed to deliver. We both enjoyed our beverages, in silence. I, of course broke the silence and asked him who he lives with continuing an earlier exchange about his family. Yes, I was being nosey. He kept his answers short as if speaking to his “client.” It seemed to me as if even the act of sitting and enjoying this cup of caffeine was difficult for him and went against all norms. There was a level of discomfort I felt and instead of wishing that it wasn’t, I just accepted it as is. Here is the thing. As much as I like my comfort and opt for cars and private guides in certain countries when I travel, rather than taking buses, I do not enjoy the feeling of being “served” and treated differently due to some sort of classist privilege I possess just because I hire a driver. Even if I am a paying customer and I understand that there are already established roles based on that transaction alone, I rather challenge the culturally firm and engrained structures.
At the end of the day when it comes to human interaction and this one specifically, I am Pramod and Pramod is me. At the depth of our humanhood, we are the same. Earlier on our ride, the brief moments we were able to transfer a few words and laugh together on how hungry I felt, he showed me his families home and the school he attended. When he pointed to the school, I initially thought, because of his broken English, that he was trying to tell me that his children go there, but he reassured me that he was a bachelor. We didn’t speak much, but he really wanted me to know that he was unmarried. He also said that women would not consider his job as a driver prestigious enough and this is why he is single. Surely, there is someone out there who’d love Pramod for who he was and what he does and would see his “enoughness.” I believed that and I believe that he is loved by many. I wonder if he knew that.
I loved Pramod for his smile, his stillness, his essence and his smiling eyes. I loved that we could share so much time and not say so much; and, in that silence, I realized that whatever separated Pramod and I, at the end of the day, I was him and he was I. Two men, “bachelors” to some, sometimes content sometimes not, often jaded seeking connection, often not, moving forward with major roadblocks at times and steadily and silently with the flow of things, other days. Pramod taught me today to just shut up and enjoy the ride and stop asking questions. He also inspired me to write again from the heart. His offering of silence was more than he will ever know. I just wish he accepted my insistence to have a lunch after our seven hour ride. But, he was persistent in what he needed and I respected that.